Fla. Lawyer Wins Case, Sets Precedent

Sylvidaga, Florida. Aug. 31.

When Elmer Lamont Davis was caught red-handed last year by county, state and Federal law enforcement unloading a shipment of Colombian raw opium worth an estimated $2.4 million in the U.S. black market, he was certain that his career as a drug smuggler was over and that he would be doing a minimum of ten years in a Federal prison before even becoming eligible for parole.

That was before he hired the flamboyant and controversial Sylvidaga attorney Dudley Shanks, Jr. to represent him on the dozen or more felony charges he faced. Last Friday, Elmer Davis walked out of court a free man, all charges against him dismissed. And Dudley Shanks promised that the authorities had not heard the last of either his client or himself. "We plan to sue for damages," Shanks told reporters after the case against his client was thrown out. "The U.S. Government is the guilty party in this case. They should be held accountable for what they tried to do to my client."

Soon after he first met his client, Lawyer Shanks realized that he faced a challenging defense. "They had him dead to rights," Shanks said to reporters after the case was dismissed. "He was guilty as hell and everybody knew it. He was headed for some serious time." In addition to Davis' signed confession and the testimony of eight accomplices against him, authorities provided the testimony, backed up by audio and video surveillance tapes, of three undercover agents who had been part of Davis' lucrative drug smuggling operation. And Davis' prior criminal record of more than two dozen arrests and half a dozen prior felony convictions was certainly nothing in his favor either.

Things looked dark for both attorney and client - until Dudley Shanks decided upon an innovative and highly risky legal gambit that has legal experts everywhere shaking their heads in disbelief or admiration. "Hell," said Shanks after the fifteen minute trial before the judge was over, "we didn't have anything to lose. Elmer was toast anyway. So I said to myself, why not give it a shot?" The shot that Dudley Shanks fired may prove to be one heard around the entire legal world. For he won his client's freedom by persuading the judge that the law and not his client was the guilty party. Dudley Shanks fought the law - and Shanks won.

The basis of Shanks' unusual defense was brutally direct and to the point. "Your honor," he is reported to have said, "my client did just what the state is saying that he did. And he has done a lot more that he has never been caught doing and will never be charged with. He has broken more of these laws than you can shake a stick at. He is a guilty man. "But the question, your honor, is what made him do what he did? He did it for money, plain and simple. No ifs, ands or buts. Drug smuggling pays well. Too well. It corrupted my client. If it hadn't been so profitable, he wouldn't have done it. Elmer Davis was a law-abiding man until the profits he could make running drugs went through the roof. He couldn't stop himself. He tried, but he just couldn't. How could any red-blooded American who saw a chance to make the kind of bucks my client could make, possibly refuse? He couldn't. Drug running is just too well-paid. My client gave in. He admits it. He would do it again tomorrow if he could. "Your honor, let's face facts. The war on drugs is a failure. I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. Even the people in D.C. know it. But nevertheless it keeps on going. The war is lost. It has been lost. People are going to use drugs. It is a natural tendency. Everybody does it. They have a right to do it. Nobody can stop it. But they keep trying to stop it anyway, and the result is that people like my client give in to temptation. They become smugglers in spite of themselves. They don't want to, they fight against it, the hate themselves while they are doing it, but they can't help it. My client is ashamed to say that he has even killed some men -he won't tell even me how many- in the pursuit of his trade. He had to. What could he do when they ripped him off? Call the police? The men he murdered were also casualties of the ill-conceived, wasteful and destructive War on Drugs. The U.S. Government might as well have put them up against the wall and pulled the trigger itself. "My client is guilty, your honor, but he is also innocent. In fact he is a victim. My client Elmer Davis is a helpless victim of the War on Drugs. Because if there were no war on drugs, he wouldn't be standing here before you today, guilty as charged. "Your honor, the law made him do it."